Exposition permanenteMusée MaritimeThe golden age of sea travel

On the 6th of March, a very sad event occured. Alain Conan left the harbour on board of his yacht Mea Culpa; he was alone, the weather was fine. At the Maritime Museum, we were expecting him late that afternoon. By 1 pm, as he had not yet returned, his wife Kathy began to be concerned. She called their son Gaël. He called search and rescue and organised an aerial search. The boat was spotted, anchored on Sournois Reef, with no one on board. It became clear that Alain had gone for a dive: the borading ladder was in place, as was the usual line used for attaching the diving gear before climbing onboard. All day, rescue personnel searched for signs of him. The following day, extensive aerial searches were conducted by the Navy's Guardian aircraft, fruitlessly. Sea conditions were particularly good, and Gendarmerie divers combed the surroundings reefs.

By the end of the second day, with the consent of the family, the search was called off. As the news spread, messages of support and sympathy began to pour in. Alain Conan had known a brilliant professionnal career, but he was best known for his pursuits. In 1981, with a group of close friends, he had founded "Association Salomon" and proceeded to lead eight archaeological expeditions to Vanikoro (Solomon Islands). These led to the discovery and indentification of the wrecks of La Pérouse's two ships, thus solving the "La Pérouse mystery", to the great satisfaction of the French authorities. The last two archaeological missions enjoyed the logistic support of the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Culture and the French Navy. Two important books were published recounting the adventure. Recently, a web site was established to make the results of their discoveries accessible to a wider public (http://www.collection-laperouse.fr). The large number of objects and artefacts brought back from the wrecks constitute and important part of the permanent collections of the Maritime Museum of New Caledonia. Alain Conan had contributed much to the birth of the Museum, together with the association "Fortunes de Mer Calédoniennes" of which he was a founding member.

In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious title of "Officier de la Légion d'Honneur" by the French governement. However, it is for his commitment to historical research through his activity with "Fortunes de mer" that he is also remembered. This association was founded by Raymond Proner, and his friends Denis, Jean-Pierre and others. Only these pioneers, no longer so young, will remember the archaeological missions conducted in the Chesterfield Group onboard S/V Elusive, and, while onboard M/V La Gazelle, the discovey of the remains of the Emile Renouf. And none will forget the late Riquet Goiran, their shipmate and fellow diver and explorer...

Gilbert Castet

President of the Maritime Museum of New Caledonia

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